Gotcha! That was Spike TV's and William Shatner's message to the town of Riverside, Iowa, Tuesday, when they revealed that the entire town had been the butt of a year-long joke that will be a reality show on the cable network in 2005. From numerous accounts, however, the town appeared glad to be had.
Shatner, accompanied by a fake film crew, writers and actors had spent the better part of a year "on location" in Riverside to film Invasion Iowa, an independent film that didn't exist, billed as written, directed and produced by Shatner. Several locals were auditioned and hired as actors and crew members, unwittingly becoming the stars not of the film, but of the TV show.
The show's premise is to lampoon Hollywood by capturing the reactions of middle America to Shatner as he plays an increasingly exaggerated version of himself, aided by the stereotypes of neurotic assistant, spiritual adviser, and difficult leading lady as interpreted by improvisational actors.
Shatner cushioned the blow of revealing the hoax with a $100 check for the city, as well as some warm words for the inhabitants
"I fell in love with the people of Riverside," he said in a statement, "The hardest part of this whole experience was containing my empathy for the individuals who listened to and identified with the soap opera that we played in front of them."
Shatner, a dramatic actor whose career was defined by his on-the-edge-of-over-the-top portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, has made a second career out of sending-up himself, including in a series of self-deprecating Priceline.com spots and as the egomaniacal Denny Crain, on The Practice (he won an Emmy for the role) and this year's spin-off, Boston Legal.
He picked Riverside because it was the home town of his Kirk character in the TV series and hosts an annual Trek Fest.
Spike TV says the reality series is co-produced by Shatner, but we'll believe that when we see it in the credit roll, and maybe not even then.